Well, what a morning!
Some time in mid-July, I realised I need to write a sequel to Widdershins. When I sent off the final proof, I immediately stopped thinking about it. But when the magical period of publication came round, it was always on my mind. Then the characters started bothering me and hanging around in my mind late at night when I was trying to get some (much-needed) sleep.
Eventually, I decided that the only way to get them out of my head was to write them out. Then I had all sorts of panics, and bombarded myself with so many ‘what if?’ questions that I could barely hold pen to paper. Yes, writer’s block, performance anxiety, that difficult second book, whatever you want to call it, had struck.
Whenever I feel stuck with my writing, I turn to morning pages to get me unstuck. That’s when I had my brilliant idea: what if I wrote the whole novel by doing morning pages? It was a brilliant idea in theory. It was much less brilliant on the first Monday morning when I had to wake up at 5.45 am.
Normally, I like a gradual awakening. I have three gentle alarms set on my phone, five minutes apart. I also have a dawn simulator and then a loud klaxon-like alarm just in case all else fails. This way, I drift gradually into consciousness and feel reasonably sensible and calm when I wake up.
For morning pages to work properly, it’s important to still be in the hypnopompic dream state. That means no more gentle wake-up call. So, all the nice, gentle, soothing alarms were turned off. The lovely dawn simulator and its soft, golden sunrise was turned off. That left the klaxon.
I stored my work in progress to the left of my pillow, along with pen and glasses. The second the alarm went off, I’d turn on the lamp, put on my specs, pick up the pen and start writing. Easier said than done when your eyes aren’t focused and you still have sleep paralysis in your hands. Still, it really gets the job done.
So, fast-forward a few months… I started doing my morning pages today, and because it was Saturday and I didn’t have to stop for anything (like ordering kids in and out of the shower, or rushing off to work), I just kept going. And then suddenly, I realised, that’s it. It’s done!
I started writing on 11th July and I finished today on 14th October. So, 95 days and 76,375 words later, the first draft is done. That would be about a hundred hours’ worth of writing. But now the real work begins. I’ll type it up (least favourite part because I can’t read my own writing at the best of times, let alone when it’s been written using hands that can’t grip a pen properly). Then I’ll leave it to brew for a while before I start rewriting and editing. The typing, rewriting and editing part will take me 20 times longer than the writing part. But it’s easier in many ways. I can only write in very short bursts of an hour or so a day before my brain hurts, but I can edit for ten hours a day without too many tears (as long as I have regular eye and leg breaks).
All being well, I hope the Widdershins sequel will see the light of day some time in 2018 (fingers crossed)! It might be called Deiseal, or Deosil, or Sunwise, or something completely different…we’ll see.
If you’ve not tried morning pages, I heartily recommend them as a top writing tip. They were first mentioned by Dorothea Brande in her excellent book, Becoming a Writer, and they were popularised by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. They’re extremely hard to do, especially if you’re not a morning person, but give them a try and you’ll find they improve your work enormously. As an added bonus, your writing is done for the day, so that’s a massive tick on the to-do list and one less thing to worry about.
Best wishes, Helen
PS According to Hilary Mantel, Dorothea Brande’s book is the only ‘how-to’ book you need to read. And she knows what she’s talking about! (I wonder if Dame Hilary does morning pages. Will add to list of questions to ask next time I see her!)